Saturday, June 12, 2010

June 15, 1967 Straight Theater, 1702 Haight Street, San Francisco, CA Christening with The Grateful Dead/Wildflower

(a scan of the Straight Theater Benefit held at The Avalon Ballroom on May 19, 1966, featuring the Grateful Dead, The Wildflower and The Outfit. h/t Ross for the scan)

The Grateful Dead's performance at the Straight Theater pre-opening party appears on some lists and not others, as it is a generally known event about which very little was known. I myself had always considered it an unconfirmed Grateful Dead performance, for various reasons I will explain. However, Ross confirmed the Grateful Dead's performance with Stephen Ehret of The Wildflower, who also performed. Now that we can move the performance into the confirmed category, its worth briefly documenting a little bit about the event.

The Straight Theater, 1702 Haight Street, San Francisco
The Straight Theater was an old movie theater in the heart of the Haight Ashbury, at 1702 Haight on the corner of Haight and Cole (another entrance seems to have had the address of 1748 Haight). In early 1966, some local hippies decided to convert the old theater into a hippie arts center that would present musical and other performances as well as act as a sort of Hip Community Center. The complete story of The Straight on The Haight is quite interesting and detailed, and is best told on founder Reggie Wiliams's site, but for narrative purposes I will provide a brief summary here.

The old theater required a lot of work inside, and also required a lot of work to achieve the necessary Permits to present live shows. However, the theater immediately became a clubhouse of sorts, and was initially the rehearsal hall for a group called The Outfit. At some point in 1967, the theater also became a rehearsal hall for the Grateful Dead. It is very hard to pin down Dead rehearsal hall dates (there being few obvious anchors like posters or reviews), but I believe it was in between the band's time at the Sausalito Heliport but before the Potrero Theater.

The Straight was an important Community cause in the Haight. A benefit featuring the Grateful Dead and The Wildflower was held at the Avalon on May 19, 1966 (the poster is up top) to raise funds, and another was held there on March 5, 1967 (featuring Country Joe and The Fish, Big Brother, Moby Grape and The Sparrow). Its interesting to see that Chet Helms allowed the Avalon to be used to raise funds for a potential competitor, but such was San Francisco at the time. Most people forget that the Fillmore and Avalon were about 3 miles from the Haight, and many if not most hippies did not have direct access to cars. Thus many hippies saw the two main ballrooms as venues largely directed at the suburbs (rightly or wrongly), and the Straight seemed to seemed to solve that problem.

By June 1967, the physical work on the Straight Theater was complete, and only a Dance Permit was required to pave the way for the opening of the new venue. Dance Permits were a strange holdover from the Prohibition Era, in which the San Francisco got to determine which establishments could allow dancing. This made mid-60s San Francisco a sort of alternative universe Footloose-By-The-Bay, where dancing was mostly illegal but LSD was not. The struggles over a Dance Permit were a significant problem for the Straight, but that is a lengthy (if fascinating) story for another time.

The Straight Theater Christening, Thursday, June 15, 1967
The "Straight Theater Christening" was a private event--thus not requiring a Permit--to celebrate the opening of the Straight. In fact, the Straight would not open for over a month (July 22, 1967) and various Permit related problems continued to interfere, but that would have lain in the future. The two acts performing at the event were Oakland's Wildflower and a neighborhood band, the Grateful Dead (it was that kind of neighborhood).

The night of June 15, 1967 was particularly momentous. The hugely anticipated Monterey Pop Festival would begin on the next evening (Friday June 16), in which numerous local San Francisco underground bands, most without even records, would share the stage with major acts from Los Angeles, New York and London. The Who were playing the Fillmore of June 16 and 17, and heading down to Monterey for their Sunday (June 18) show. Most of the famous Haight Ashbury bands still lived in the Haight, for the most part, so the Straight Theater Christening was apparently the coolest of the cool parties, and in some ways the last night before Monterey Pop irrevocably expanded the San Francisco scene beyond the City's borders.

I have never doubted that the Grateful Dead were expected to be the featured attraction at the Straight Theater Christening, nor have I doubted that the band members were in attendance. However, most of the references to the party have usually been second or third hand, and the few who have recalled attending it seem somewhat foggy (ahem). The Dead were just getting back from their first Eastern tour, and had a Southern California show on Friday night (June 16), so there were some logistics involved. There could have been--may have been--a rolling jam session in which Dead members participated, but that was no guarantee of a Dead concert.


In this unique instance, the Grateful Dead lived in the neighborhood, and many if not most of the party guests knew the band members personally. Thus someone who may have recalled chatting with Phil Lesh and vaguely recall Jerry Garcia on stage would not have been focused on whether the Dead per se actually performed, as the Straight Theater Christening was more like a block party than a concert.

However, Ross spoke to Stephen Ehret of the Wildflower, and Ehret recalls the Dead's performance, so that puts the show into the confirmed cateogory. As to what they may have played, or how long, or any other details, no one may ever know, but at least we know for sure about the best neighborhood block party we wish we attended.

11 comments:

  1. Hey all, my question doesn't have to do with 6/15/67 show but rather a possible 9/24/67 show. I just read this on the thestraight.com's Off the Wall section: "The following Sunday, Sept 24, the Straight co-hosted with the Dead a free “Welcome to American Indian Equinox Celebration “ and the Pow-Wow certainly cleansed any lingering bad vibes from the former participants. This event posted a beautiful work (poster and matching handbill) by an anonymous artist whose mystic mandala and tender words about the rock we share is moving even today. “Life is grafted on a fractured globe of rock/ we share a carpet of bones for plant and animal love”." The poster mentioned is up on sixties.com's poster auction site at http://tinyurl.com/3o2jx9q (or http://auction.sixtiesposters.com/Bidding.taf?_function=detail&Auction_uid1=2285796)

    However, deadlists states that the GD were playing Denver's City Park on 9/24/67. I also have the poster for the Denver concert up at http://www.deadlists.com/posters/1960s/19670924.html. It doesn't mention the GD but I did cite a quote that indicated they were there (but can't recall where I got the quote).

    So the question is, did the GD play Denver during the day, then the Straight at night? According to the quote I mentioned, "equipment hassles made them give up after a few tunes." Given that they played a short daytime set in Denver, and they would've gained an hour flying from CO to CA, it seems possible.

    I found a brief discussion of the concert at http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/beausoleil but the GD were not mentioned though a couple other acts were.

    Any thoughts/extra info on this?

    IM (aka psychlops)

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  2. The idea of a 9/24/67 evening show at the Straight is interesting, and within the realm of the possible. However, do we have any other confirmation beyond an assertion that the Dead "co-hosted" the Equinox event? The "Off The Wall" site is very interesting, but I haven't seen a rigorous attention to an accurate timeline on those pages. Given that the Dead played the Straight the next weekend, some memories may be intersecting.

    On the other hand, if the Dead left Denver on a 5:00pm flight and got back to 710 at, say 8pm. what else did they have to do? They could all have walked over to the Straight, so maybe they did. This is very intriguing.

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  3. Fascinating, and nice to see you, IM!

    I'll see if I can find newspaper writeups of the city park gig, which might give times. That'd at least set some parameters.

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  4. The Yellow Shark weighs in:

    I will try and come at the matter from the other direction of the Straight Theater it self. There are other posters and extensive advertising for the Thursday event which saw Magick Powerhouse of Oz, Kenneth Anger, The Amazing Charlatans, Congress of Wonders, SF Mime Troupe, The Duncan Company in "The Equinox of the Gods". September 21 also saw a print of the film of "Lucifer Rising" stolen from the theater. I took a look to see what the actual date of the Equinox was in 1967 and it appears to be September 23 (the Saturday) but even that is not certain from a quick Google. Sunday September 24 was advertised as "The Straight Present Free Music". I appreciate that the dates that Reggie had on thestraight.com were not terribly accurate originally but we did put some effort in to tidy them up. Additionally, Reggie was one of the owners of the Straight and has a better archive of Straight handbills than I do, but I do have all of the hip press to check. I will also check John French's book to see if he mentions the Denver show. Ross

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  5. Further Yellow Shark

    An update: I now have the full schedule for the period in question at the Straight. The reference made to the performance in the Beausoleil relates to the Thursday (September 21). I am still digging but am certain that the Dead did not play on the Sunday as the Straight had the dance licence hearing on the Monday which allowed the GD/Sons of Champlain (Hart’s first) shows to go ahead the following Friday and Saturday – September 29/30. Two interesting matters to be considered here – one speculation on my part. (1) The Dead were busted on Monday October 2, the same day the Blue Cheer house at 369 Haight was raided with the band scheduled to play the Straight as well (possibly on October 6 and 7). Speculation at the time was that this could have been revenge for the Dance permit being granted on September 25. Who knows? (2) That the reference noted by Psychlops from Reggie (Reg E Williams) is actually correct but date is incorrect and reference was actually being made to the Thursday event (September 21) which is borne out by the Sunday schedule. I am hunting down a review of the weekend events but am now thinking that the Dead “hosted” rather than played the Thursday event and were perhaps simply in attendance at the multi-media extravaganza featuring: Magick Powerhouse of Oz, Kenneth Anger, The Amazing Charlatans, Congress of Wonders, SF Mime Troupe, The Duncan Company.

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  6. and finally from Yellow Shark

    I have checked John French's book and there is no mention of the Denver event at all, so it does not help. The Mime Troupe book also offers little
    for the period - whereas there is otherwise a complete chronology.

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  7. Per Yellow Shark, here is the demystified Straight Theatre chronology for the couple of weeks in question.

    Reggie has one or two date issues. I think the Grateful Dead reference is either to September 21 (and they did not perform) or the first
    "Dance Concert" shown on October 4. Articles in the Barb cover the September 21 event due to the theft of the film and the September 24 event due to the other thefts. No mention of the Grateful Dead at all. The Barb discusses
    speculation about the October 2 busts being linked to the Straight - I
    should ask Reggie.

    I am pretty confident over the following. Feel free to include in the blog responses as I don't seem to be able to.

    Thursday 21 September 1967

    Performers: Magick Powerhouse of Oz, Kenneth Anger, The Amazing
    Charlatans, Congress of Wonders, SF Mime Troupe, The Duncan Company, The
    Haight Street Dancers.

    Notes: The true "Equinox of the Gods" event as originally advertised. On this evening, four 400 foot long reels containing the master cut of the film of Lucifer Rising was stolen from the theatre with a number of other items. Kenneth Anger offered a significant reward.

    Friday 22 September 1967

    Performers: North American Indian Unity Caravan (discussion session)

    Notes: Around noon the theatre was made available to Indians in the North American Indian Unity Caravan. They discussed their
    religion, prophecies, life plan, or whatever else they wanted to talk about and answered questions. May well have been some chanting.

    Saturday 23 September 1967

    Performers: Movies.

    Notes: Starting at noon, movies by McDuck were shown for 25c entry. McDuck was "a non-profit visual organ for the Haight Ashbury and
    Fillmore District." Movies included "The Deerslayer," and a Laurel and Hardy flick, Putting Pants on Phillip, plus cartoons. Kenneth Anger's home is broken in to and movie equipment stolen.

    Sunday 24 September 1967

    Performers: Max Hartstein's Twenty Fifth Century Ensemble, Malachi

    Notes: At 6 pm the Twenty Fifth Century Ensemble, a seven or eight piece orchestra, made its debut in a show - led by Max Hartstein
    and in support of Malachi Price: $1.50. A musician with the Twenty Fifth Century Ensemble has her flute stolen and Malachi has his 12 string guitar stolen before going on stage.


    (continued next post)

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  8. Straight chronology continued

    Monday 25 September 1967

    Performers: Poetry. Movies

    Notes: Movies by McDuck - again for 50c "The Bridge" and some Chaplin films. Straight Theatre loses it's appeal over gaining a Dance
    licence.

    Tuesday 26 September 1967

    Performers: Movies, Magic Powerhouse of Oz

    Notes: Movies (not by McDuck) - a portion of The Lady from Shanghai, Metropolis (with live accompaniment by the Magic Powerhouse of
    Oz), and Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome.

    Wednesday 27 September 1967

    Performers: Anonymous Artists of America (AAA), Initial Shock, Poets,Jane Lapiner and Co perform "Waiting and Bodies"

    Notes: Mixed Mediathon Benefit for the Haight-Ashbury Free Medical Clinic

    Thursday 28 September 1967

    Performers: Dr David Smith, Mad River, Poets, Jane Lapiner and Co perform "Waiting and Bodies"

    Notes: Mixed Mediathon Benefit for the Haight-Ashbury Free Medical Clinic

    Friday 29 September 1967

    Performers:Grateful Dead, Sons of Champlin

    Notes: First Straight Theatre Dance Class and Mickey Hart's first show. 9PM start at $2.50.

    Saturday 30 September 1967

    Performers: Grateful Dead, Sons of Champlin

    Notes: A second Straight Theatre Dance Class

    Sunday 1 October 1967

    Performers: Unknown

    Notes: Straight Theater Presents Free Music - local bands before fame and fortune kicks in

    Monday 2 October 1967

    Performers: Poetry with Lenore Kandel.

    Notes: Grateful Dead house at 710 Ashbury and Blue Cheer House at 369 Haight Street are busted. It is suggested this was in revenge
    for the Dead playing the Dance Class at the Straight to by-pass the ruling that forbade the Straight holding dances.

    Tuesday 3 October 1967

    Performers:

    Notes:

    Wednesday 4 October 1967

    Performers: Fred Neil, Hugh Masekela, Shel Sllverstein, Sopwith Camel,
    Jane Lapiner and Co perform "Waiting and Bodies"

    Notes: Benefit for the Hip Medical Clinic

    Thursday 5 October 1967

    Performers: Fred Neil, Hugh Masekela, Shel Sllverstein, Sopwith Camel, Jane Lapiner and Co perform "Waiting and Bodies"

    Notes: Benefit for the Hip Medical Clinic

    Friday 6 October 1967

    Performers: Unknown
    Notes: Likely date for a cancelled Blue Cheer show.

    Saturday 7 October 1967

    Performers: Unknown

    Notes: Likely date for a cancelled Blue Cheer show.

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  9. i remember the theater, it must have been 66 or 67, summer, the street was very busy. i was sitting in front of the straight, on the side walk and people were driving by taking pictures and gawking !it was really alot of fun. when you first walked onto the street you werer asked if you needed acid, weed, speed or whatever else was avilible, it was very loose and almost seemed legal ! oh the memories !

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  10. I attended the Saturday 30 September 1967 event at the Straight--I still have my signed (by William Resner, whoever he may have been) dance ticket, to the "Straight Theater School of Dance". I remember specifically how they had to bill the event as a dance class, to get around permit restrictions. It was an incredibly intimate concert venue--imagine a high school dance with a very low stage and no barriers between dance floor and performers--compared to the stadium concerts that came after. I have a very vivid image of Jerry Garcia playing a few feet away from me near the front of the stage, in his stocking feet (Sixties lifestyle and 47 intervening years notwithstanding, some images just seem to stick). I have always used this event, as small and informal as it was, to mark my being witness to the band scene when it would still fit in a relatively tiny space like the Straight.

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    Replies
    1. Neat - do you remember if there were two drummers?

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